Bi-directional cross-linguistic influence in bilingual Russian-Hebrew children

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This study examines cross-linguistic influence of L1 on L2 and L2 on L1 and the extent to which age of L2 onset (L2 AoO) is linked to the acquisition of morpho-syntactic properties in both languages of bilingual children who acquire L1-Russian as a heritage language and L2-Hebrew as a majority language. Our investigation of L1-L2 influence focuses on morpho-syntactic features, whose configurations vary in Russian and Hebrew. Definiteness is realized in Hebrew (but not in Russian), aspect is selected in Russian (but not in Hebrew), and [ACC] case is realized in both languages (but the mapping is different across the two languages); finally, the features of [Person], [Number] and [Gender] are mapped onto verbal inflections in both languages. A total of 110 Russian-Hebrew bilingual children aged 5;5–6;5 with varying ages of L2-Hebrew onset (0–60 months), 20 Hebrew-speaking monolinguals and 20 Russian-speaking monolinguals participated. Results demonstrate cross-linguistic influence, showing that it is bi-directional (L1 on L2 and L2 on L1). The patterns of crosslinguistic influence were similar: bilinguals performed similarly to monolinguals on features, with similar configurations in L1 and L2 (i.e., subject-verb agreement) but performed lower for properties realized differently in L1 and L2 (i.e., [DEF] articles in L2-Hebrew; [PERF] aspect and [ACC] case inflections in L1-Russian). The results also showed an effect of L2 AoO on the acquisition of both L1 and L2. Children with earlier AoO to L2-Hebrew (before 24 months) achieve better mastery in L2-Hebrew and performed lower in L1-Russian. Conversely, later AoOs to L2, led to better mastery of L1 and weaknesses in the acquisition of L2. Findings are discussed in light of the Feature Re-assembly Hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)514-553
Number of pages40
JournalLinguistic Approaches to Bilingualism
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation (grant No.779/10) and the German Israel Foundation (grant No. 1113/2010). We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Sharon Granner, Ilona Inbar, Tal Adadi, Amit Lavy, Moria Aricha, Maria Nikitina, Natalia Lalenkova, Natalia Kazova for their help with data collection. We also thank the parents and children who participated in this research. Furthermore, we extend our gratitude to Sharon Unsworth (Editor) and all anonymous reviewers for their helpful and detailed comments and suggestions on previous versions of this paper.

Publisher Copyright:
© John Benjamins Publishing Company.


  • Age of L2 onset (L2 AoO)
  • Aspect
  • Case
  • Child heritage speakers
  • Cross-linguistic influence
  • Definiteness
  • Hebrew
  • Morpho-syntax
  • Russian
  • Subject-verb agreement


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